Sleep Apnea: A sleeping disorder that could be fatal

Sleep apnea is a sleeping disorder that can lead to fatal results if it is taken lightly. It makes your breathing stop in intervals while you are asleep. It can be mild, moderate, or severe, depending on the number of times in an hour that your breathing stops (apnea) or becomes very shallow (hypopnea).

More than five apneas per hour are abnormal. More than 30-40 per hour are considered to be potentially more serious and the condition should be classified as severe sleep apnea.


What are the different types of sleep apnea?

In its first description in 1965, this breathing disorder was characterized as short disturbances in breathing while sleeping. In Greek, apnea means “want of breath”.

There are three types of sleep apnea:

  • Obstructive sleep apnea: It occurs when the muscles in the back of the throat fail to keep the airway open, despite efforts to breathe. 
  • Central sleep apnea: It occurs when the brain fails to properly control breathing during sleep.
  • Complex sleep apnea syndrome: It occurs when someone who previously had obstructive sleep apnea develops central sleep apnea due to the use of treatment with continuous positive airway pressure.

Males are more likely to develop central sleep apnea than are females.

Mostly, sleep apnea is more common among older adults but it can affect children as well.

Are you at risk of sleep apnea?

If you possess any of these characteristics, then you are at a higher risk of developing sleep apnea.

  • Being male
  • Being overweight
  • Being over age 40
  • Having a large neck size (17 inches or greater in men and 16 inches or greater in women)
  • Having large tonsils, a large tongue, or a small jaw bone
  • Having a family history of sleep apnea
  • Nasal obstruction due to a deviated septum, allergies, or sinus problems

To confirm whether or not you have sleep apnea, a sleep study test called the polysomnogram will need to be performed. The sleep apnea test consists of multiple tests that record and transmit your physical activities while you sleep. Surface electrodes are placed on your face and scalp to record electric signals, and belts are placed around your chest and abdomen to record your breathing. So, just being the possessor of the signs mentioned above would not make you a sufferer of sleep apnea. Consult a professional before you conclude your result.

These are the symptoms you need to be looking out for:

  • Loud or frequent snoring.
  • Silent pauses in breathing.
  • Choking or gasping sounds.
  • Daytime sleepiness or fatigue.
  • Unrefreshing sleep.
  • Insomnia.
  • Morning headaches.
  • Nocturia (waking during the night to go to the bathroom).

Is sleep apnea fatal?

Sleep apnea can cause a number of health complications besides leaving you more tired in the morning. If left untreated, this sleeping condition can:

  • Trigger mental health issues
  • Lead to poor immune function
  • Increase your risk of heart failure
  • Contribute to memory loss

Yes, it is fatal. Sleep apnea is rarely a direct cause of death, but it can lead to a wide range of other potentially fatal health problems.


What are the treatments for sleep apnea?

Positive airway pressure (PAP) therapy is the most common form of treatment for moderate and severe obstructive sleep apnea. PAP therapy is a general term that health professionals apply to all sleep apnea treatments that provide patients with a stream of compressed air while they sleep to support their airway. The patient wears a mask while sleeping.

BiPAP (also referred to as BPAP) stands for Bilevel Positive Airway Pressure and is very similar in function and design to a CPAP machine. It can help sleep apnea sufferers with great impact.

Yoga is a natural therapy. Such regular exercise can increase your energy level, strengthen your heart, and improve sleep apnea.

Sleeping on your back — called the supine position — can worsen your symptoms. It can increase your snoring and block your airways. In some cases, sleeping on your side can help your breathing return to normal, However, for children, sleeping on their backs can be more beneficial.

Using a humidifier can open your airways, decrease congestion, and encourage clearer breathing. For additional benefit, use lavender with a humidifier.

However, new study shows that losing weight may be the best way to reduce symptoms of sleep apnea. Maintain a healthy weight. Starving yourself will always have adverse effects.

Avoid alcohol, sleeping pills, and sedatives, especially before bedtime, because they relax the muscles in the throat and interfere with breathing.

Open your nasal passages at night by using a nasal dilator, saline spray, breathing strips, or a nasal irrigation system (neti pot).

Surgery can have side effects, which is why it’s usually viewed as a last resort


Not everyone who snores has sleep apnea, and not everyone who has sleep apnea snores.

The biggest telltale sign is how you feel during the day. Normal snoring doesn’t interfere with the quality of your sleep as much as sleep apnea does, so you’re less likely to suffer from extreme fatigue and sleepiness during the day.

If you are suspicious about being a patient of sleep apnea, you can ask your sleeping partner to assess your sleeping pattern for an hour. Then discuss the risks you face with your sleep specialist and find the right solution for yourself.

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